You won't find the mug shots and names of Washington state's nearly 14,000 Level 1 sex offenders online, where the information of approximately 7,000 Level 2 and Level 3 sex offenders are easily accessible.
But a request filed by an eastern Washington woman may change that.
Donna Zink has asked that the Washington State Patrol release information on all sex offenders, including Level 1 offenders, who are considered the least-likely to reoffend.
“Her intent is to put it on a public website where she can embarrass and humiliate the people who have been convicted of sex offenses,” Seattle lawyer Brad Meryhew told KIRO 7 reporter Amy Clancy on Monday.
Meryhew represents two Level 1 sex offenders who have filed a lawsuit in King County to fight Zink’s request.
“The risk to most of my clients is that somebody who’s rebuilt their life, built a family, made a life for themselves after making a mistake when they were younger is now going to find their entire life destroyed,” he told Clancy. “When this information goes up they lose jobs, they lose housing, they lose people in their life and those consequences can be huge.”
Meryhew said that many Level 1 sex offenders committed their crimes as juveniles and that their victims were often family members. He believes publicizing the Level 1 sex offenders’ names will also “out” their victims. He also said anything that threatens the stability of a sex offender increases the risk they will reoffend.
The Washington State Attorney General’s Office is representing the State Patrol in this case. Assistant Attorney General John Hillman told Clancy that Zink’s request should be granted because most of the information is already available to the public at county courthouses, just not available online. He also said it is the job of the AG's office to uphold our state's public disclosure laws as written.
“When you read the Public Records Act, there’s nothing in there that tells us the Legislature wanted this specific information exempted from public disclosure,” Hillman said. “These records are not exempt from the Public Disclosure Act.”
King County Superior Court Judge Jean Rietschel barred the release of the information last week.
So far there is no trial date for this case.
“The term sex offender covers a wide range of individuals," ACLU staff said in a statement. "This case deals with releasing the names of the lowest-level offenders, including both adults and juveniles – people whom the government considers unlikely to reoffend. Being identified publicly as a sex offender puts individuals at risk of being harassed, assaulted, or losing jobs and housing. Being stigmatized makes it difficult for these individuals to proceed with living their lives. The government should follow the state’s sex offender registration law, which says that names of these individuals should not be released automatically to the general public.”
What classifies as a sex offense? Click here to see Washington State law regarding sex offenses.
Click here to see the classification differences between sex offenders.
Follow this link to see what the sex offender levels mean.